Find Me by J.S. Monroe
A thriller is a funny thing. It really serves one purpose, to capture the reader and make sure they keep turning the pages. For something so simple, it is a very hard thing to get right. Coupled to this, these days authors populate their books with people that, frankly, you find hard to wish along the journey. Last year I reviewed Noah Hawley's Before the Fall. It is wonderfully written and yet, I still don't understand why everyone in the book has to be so "difficult". Into this modern literary fray arrives J.S. Monroe's Find Me and yet another attempt to review a thriller without giving anything away.
Jar is a young Irish author who has found himself working for an arts website. It is a step down for someone for whose collection of short stories was received well, if not selling in the number it's author and publisher would have hoped for. Jar hasn't been able to follow up his book. His grief over his girlfriend Rosa's apparent suicide. He is suffering from "post-bereavement hallucinations", where he thinks he sees Rosa around London, despite five years having past since she disappeared from the end of Cromer Pier. Finding his apartment burgled and then receiving a message from Rosa's aunt that she has news about Rosa, Jar leaps in to find out if he is hallucinating and Rosa is dead or if he really is seeing Rosa.
The novel fractures it's timeline, one chapter in third person following Jar as he digs into Rosa's newly discovered diary, the alternate chapters are diary entries of Rosa and others that fill in the backstory of how Jar and Rosa met at Cambridge and that of her family. Rosa's father worked for the Foreign Office and is alluded to have been a spy. This device allows Monroe (a pseudonym for spy fiction author Jon Stock) to start playing with all sorts of modern story conventions and expectations we have post 9/11. The Le Carre references are thick and fast and these help the Le Carre nut to spot the direction the story is going. Knowing this, Monroe plays on these expectations still further and draws the reader into unexpected, darker places.
He is aided in this by his creation, Jar. While the simple route would have been to play up the blarney and the East End hipster elements of the world Jar now finds himself in, Monroe's hero is anything but a grieving man who does what any grieving man does and try not to think about it. Jar is engaging and harbours that rare emotion, hope. At the same time, Rosa's diary entries show us the affect of the lost of a father on a daughter. That search for meaning and hope is mirrored by both and yet subverted by the author pulling their strings. If one where to add a note of criticism, is that it leans too heavily towards the masculine. Yet, Monroe does use this to pan out his story and, in this, he does walk a very fine line.
By the end of the novel you see that J.S. Monroe has created an increasingly dark, twisty, twisted thriller that keeps you turning the pages until the end. Which is exactly what a good thriller is supposed to do.
Find Me by J.S. Monroe is published by Head of Zeus (who I thank for the copy) and will be released on February 9th 2017.